a year in stories::thirty five

I’ve decided this is the last story I’ll write for Short Story month. Number twenty on the month, which is pretty solid, I’d say. I’m pretty happy with most of the stories I’ve written this month and think I mostly avoided failure. I wouldn’t recommend anyone try to write a short story a day for any amount of time, but I’m happy with the result. I basically have a short story collection just from this month.

Anyrate, I originally hoped to reach twenty and that’s where I am. Taking tomorrow off and then I leave for a week long vacation to go see the most beautiful woman I know, to play on a beach, to love in the south.

There were other things I meant to say but I can’t remember.

Oddly, this has been a mix of feeling very accomplished and feeling stagnant. There are a lot of writing projects I wanted to get done this month but they all took a backseat to this. And since short stories are so singular, it feels like I’ve been running in place all month.

So it goes.

Anyrate, this story is about Love in the Time of Cholera.

But not really.

It’s about talking to animals.

Oh, to be another!

 

When she spoke to the birds they spoke back: One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.

She cocked her head to the side, Didn’t you steal that from someone?

He stole it from us, they said.

From the autumnal trees she pulled colors and made a necklace of leaves. The birds sang her praise and she danced with them trilling along after her.

 

My paws are hollow, she said to the cat wrapped round the back of her neck, its tail’s constant movement brushing against her hair.

Paws can’t be hollow.

Mine are, she looked at them, front and back.

The cat yawned.

The girl kept staring at her hands, turning them over and over.

 

I hear she talks to animals.

I hear she does worse than that.

What could be worse than that?

You’re young yet, but you’ll know soon enough.

Some say she floats. In ecstasy.

Such shamefulness! If her mother lived–

If her mother lived is right! To think, a daughter like that–

Don’t go blaming the dead for dying.

No, never!

 

Why do you stay out here, said the boy.

To play with my friends.

Why don’t you come to the town?

She stepped back and the forest became silent, The ground is too hard.

The boy smiled and took a step towards her, Ground is meant to be hard. Elsewise we couldn’t built houses or make tools.

Weapons, she said, her eyes wide.

Well, sure. Weapons are tools as well.

I prefer to stay out here, she said.

The boy walked towards her and she walked backwards, keeping her distance. He said: they say you’re a witch. Did you know that? his smile spread showing tiny grey teeth.

What’s a witch?

Someone who does magic.

What’s magic?

He stopped and threw his head back in laughter. When he wiped the tears from his eyes he opened his mouth to speak but the girl was gone and the sound of the forest returned with the screeching song of insects everywhere.

 

When the storehouse burnt down in the lightning storm the people began wailing, How will we pay off the brigands? How will we satiate the Nobles? How will we live?

They fought and they screamed, blaming the absence of a Priestess, the absence of a proper temple, the scourge of gods both mighty and small. They blamed licentiousness, gluttony, abstinence, drunkenness, the eating of meat, the eating of vegetables, the moon and the sun. And when all was blamed by every hand, they turned their fingers in one direction.

 

The beetle crawled over the skin of her palm and walked right to the edge so she turned her hand over and it kept walking all the way to the edge of the back of her hand and she turned it over till it walked across her palm. For many minutes she watched the beetle walk and get nowhere, laughing to herself at first, and then later nearly in tears.

What’s the matter, said the badger.

She tossed the beetle into the air where it spread its wings and buzzed away. She said: I was thinking about how nothing lasts. How you can spend your whole life in action only to discover you’ve done nothing.

The badger scratched its head, You’re too wise for a badger and maybe too wise for a girl your age. Better not to think so much.

I can’t help it.

Look at the leaves and the sun. Look at the moon and the grass. Look at the stars. Look at the trees. None of these things will last forever but none of them worry about eternity. Just live. Live and be happy.

The girl smiled and crouched down to pet the badger, who brushed her palm away and snarled, rushing off and away.

There she is! said a voice from behind her, one she had heard before. When she turned there were humans. So many humans.

She ran and they chased and though the animals and trees and even the grass tried to aid her escape, the humans caught her and dragged her back to the town, kicking and screaming.

 

As the fire faded there were only the Elders left to watch embers burn to ash.

What shall we do now?

I don’t know.

The brigands will still come.

I know.

The Nobles will still want tribute.

I know.

What will you tell them?

I don’t know.

Did we do the right thing?

No one shall ever know of what happened today.


When the Nobles came for their tribute, they took all that was left for the town and left them to starve. When the brigands came for food and women, they discovered the story of the little girl. When the boy was done telling them of all that happened, the brigands killed everyone in the town and burnt it down. They returned after the winter rains and planted trees where once the town rested and in the middle of the trees they sculpted a statue of a girl with a necklace of leaves.

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